Sat 2nd April, 2010.
15 hours, 30 mins. British Airways then
On the long trip to Lima, sat next to a tiny woman called Manuela Florez. She spoke only Quechua the old Inca language, Spanish and a bit of Italian. I only had a smattering of Italian but managed to understand that she had lived in
I got the feeling she was rather lonely, a very motherly type who would love to look after a man.
She told me that a perfect diet consists of “cheecha” or corn beer, chicharrones or pork scratchings, cuy or guinea pig and coca tea. Sounds OK to me, except I won’t eat cavie. I must let my friend Conner who runs the anti-cancer cookery school in
Manuela was terrible patient as I huffed and puffed, writhed about, couldn’t sleep then fell asleep unexpectedly. Being so uncomfortable, with aching joints reminded me of chemotherapy all over again and I also started getting hot flushes.
We put up the arms on our seats to get about two inches more space, and walked about together down the dark plane towards the increasingly wet loos. Despite my restlessness she must have liked me a bit as she invited me to stay at her house in Arequpa near
I met a lot of young girls on the journey, quite a range of them. One had a distinct under-bite and rather a silly, eager face. She seemed really good hearted but didn’t talk to her parents and looked as if she was out on her own. She wore a long dress, flip-flops, a stud in her nose and tattoos. She was reading The Celestine Prophecy and urged me to do so. She also had another fat book about someone who had been an armed robber in Latin America and fetched up in
All the girls said they had only decided to travel to Latin American a few days ago and only packed the night before. Even in my wildest youth I was never that spontaneous or confident.
There were a few real toff girls who seem to be heading for Cusco the way they once flocked to
Great sleep. It’s almost worth travelling 8,000 miles in an airless container just for that.
I breakfasted on roast pork ribs, roast sweet potatoes, papaya, real corn flakes and quinoa, followed by rolls and coca leaf marmalade, which was a bit too sweet for me.
S America is a good place for meat eaters, not in the sense of big
Not eating cuy will be my one successful Lenten vow this year I think! I told the Maitre’d, "In
Hoped to have a swim. My hotel, Casa Andina Miraflores, boasted an “impressive third floor swimming pool with a waterfall,” and panoramic views. This turned out to be a patch of water the size of a garden pond surrounded by high frosted glass. Who really wants to look at the streets of
“It has beautiful parks,” my guide told me as we drove in from the airport. True, but no one can walk in them without armed escort, or so it feels. My instincts are on over-drive perhaps.
Look at myself in the large hotel bathroom mirror. What do I look like? Nothing much. My new curly hair is so quaint! It makes me look like one of those girls who joined the Christian Union and the hockey club at university. I feel it gives strangers the wrong impression, that I am about to play the role of a gentile lady traveller.
Sitting in the lobby an English couple came over and chatting to me, at first I had no idea who they were because I had sat next to them hours ago, flying from
13:50 Lan flight
A friendly, chatty young woman checked my bag in, a change after the stony faces at
As we drove into town there was a football match on the radio, an Inca team, I was told, against some Indians from the
My itinerary for the next week is very complicated, it worries me, all those flight, bus and train connections. One new sheet of instructions given to me in
Young Alec, the editor of Private Banking, which sent me here, has been out of touch for over two weeks. I asked him about expenses and he fell silent. That is usual for editors, but I thought he might have contacted me before I took off. I decided not to call him so that he has no idea whether I have gone away or not. I could still be in
As everything is planned and paid for I might as well plough on.
Seeing my room in my hotel, Inkaterra La Casona, on plaza Nazarenas in
The hotel was built on the sight of an Inca palace but was they claimed by a Conquistador. It remains in the old Spanish style, dark and cool around a small court yard. My room was simple but elegant, leading into a marble bathroom.
I celebrated with a Pisco sour,
Hiram Bingham train (Orient Express) up to
The usual Orient Express finery; crisp cream napery, flowers on the tables, brass and copper fittings, and Tiffany lamps. That’s appropriate as Hiram Bingham, the American who discovered Machu P exactly 100 years ago, was married to the Tiffany heiress before he dumped her for a younger model.
The train is full of Americans. I am placed at a table opposite two large families of them. One boy is crouching, with his trainers on the finely upholstered seats. Feel annoyed. In my role as quaint, eccentric travelling spinster, ask him gently not to put his feet on the seats. His mother looks astonished. Not long after she suddenly flings herself under the table, head down.
Her husband explains in a burbling, whiney voice, "We've had terrible bouts of altitude sickness." A bit odd as we are now in the Sacred Valley, down at 8,000 ft. Decide she was a silly woman and I feel glad to see her bourn off to spend the whole journey lying down and closeted away. He starts complaining that the trip from
Have a look at the bar, next to an end carriage which is open and used as a viewing platform. A group of Peruvians serenade loudly as we take pictures. As I go and look at the tracks realise that I have seen them before in a dream, years ago. This makes me feel very unsettled. Chat to a couple of American lady travellers from
There is a glamorous woman now seated opposite with her old mother. They are originally from
She tells me her husband runs a successful business in
"It is so wonderful to travel," she goes on, place dropping all the time. Later I think she was saying, "What is really the purpose of it all?" and her compulsive travel was a diversion from some kind of sorrow.
5/4/11 Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel.
I didn’t like this hotel much when I first arrived, after the grand comfort of La Casona it seemed a bit more Spartan. No chocs on the pillow or nice slippers. Then I realised it is a completely different kind of hotel. It consists of pueblos on an estate set in 2,000 acres of cloud forest. There is an “eco center,” offering walks into the jungle to look at orchids,
I enjoyed meeting three spectacle bears; Yogi, Pepe,
He'd never had banana and I don't think the ranger with me was expecting me to do it, I had saved it from breakfast. She said they would go back later and find out if the bear had eaten it or not, it was of interest. Up there they live on avocado, mango and bromeliads. They make a high sweet cry too, no growling.
Today I saw a bear’s genitals for the first time. Pepe, aged 20, sniffed the air, smelled females in the surrounding jungle and showed me what he’d got. The best offer I’ve had for some time.
They looked like a bright red pencil box, very rectangular and sharp at the corners, then the end turned into a funnel shape. The whole thing flopped back into his dense fur and hung there listlessly, a dark sack with a tiny red tip.
His keepers say he is too old to have a partner which seems a bit unfair. The truth is they haven’t rescued any females. The one they had made off and now lives happily in the forest nearby, appearing occasionally.
Like many middle aged mammals Pepe suffers from overweight. He was on eight avocados a day, but is now down to three, perhaps this unusual version of joining AA was the reason he seemed so depressed and listless.
In another cage I met
I think I have just had a perfect day: 8.30am visited the bear sanctuary, then breakfast overlooking the roaring
12 noon a two hour massage using hot stones and lemon scented oil, followed by 20 minutes inside a "sweat lodge," then a cold plunge in a pond, followed by two warm baths in hot pools.
I felt very contented, resting my head on the side of one pool watching humming birds drinking from sugar feeders put up for them in the gardens.
Lunch on Andean salad and cheese. Potter into Agua Callientes, the local town over the railway tracks, where the blue Peruvian trains come in, look around the market, then return to sit on my patio. Sip coca tea looking up at
Later get a text from young Alec, at last! It says simply, "Good work, Jane." I could be in Morrison’s doing my weekly shop for all he knows, He takes it on trust that I will do the job, perhaps it’s down to the famous Daily Mail training which was something like an army training.
Hiram Bingham train back to Cusco at 5pm and tomorrow the long slog back to the
Coming back from the rail station by mini-bus back up to
Also realise one can live happily without TV, radio or internet.
The food on the return flight is much worse than coming out for some reason and the stewardesses are not nice. They remind me of the nurses I met when I was in hospital at this time last year; coldly hostile, unsmiling, if you are rash enough to ask them for anything you get a kind of death stare.
In the night I went to look for a glass of water and ventured behind the curtain into the galley. One of them was sitting there her legs stretched out, feet up on the work surface. She was very grumpy and when I said “excuse me,” and tried to get past her legs she said, “Oh don’t bother,” in a mock English accent. The only English I heard spoken on board. At the far distant end of the economy section, near the loo, two others were sitting inside and wouldn’t let me past so I had to push past the front row of the economy section over people’s legs and bags. Hospital patients, passengers; a damn nuisance.
There is also the concomitant neglect; our empty food boxes not collected for over an hour so no one can get out. In the end I gathered them up for myself and the silent unfriendly man sitting next to me and took them to the gallery myself. I could have done the whole plane before we saw the stewardesses again.
The curtain dividing us from business class remains firmly shut, but the curtain dividing us from the galley is always open, so we are flooded with light all night and out little TV screen fades into nothing.
When I arrived in
I said, “why not tell them off about it in
There is certainly a huge difference between economy and business class, perhaps it was always so, but I feel that differences between the rich and the not so well-off are getting more obvious and annoying.
The new terminal in
There is nothing to look at, the shops are crummy and an air of anger and confusion as very few people can follow the strange signs. Again there is no English, the idea that it’s become a lingua Franca doesn’t apply here.
As I sat in Starbucks, wondering if I could survive on the wooden chair for the next three hours I saw a Latin American woman with a strange bottom like two very large balloons. She’d obviously had implants. It was a parody of the human form. I wonder if that will catch on, a baboon bottom to go with a trout pout? It was a good job old Pepe couldn’t see her. Elderly couples seated nearby averted their eyes.
For a time I sat with an elderly man who gave me his card. It said: “E Anton Loubser, Honorary Consul General of the
He was grimly facing a ten hour wait with no where comfortable to sit. He talked a bit about his life in the South African diplomatic service. He gave me a picture of how a civil servant behaves under an increasingly despotic regime.
“For a civil servant loyalty is the watchword,” he said.
He had met Nelson Mandela several times since his release, and was full of sentimental admiration for him. “He loves children,” he told me.
He had wanted a kind of federal system in the country so that all ethnic groups could “develop” separately. Now he was sad to find himself part of a state mainly ruled by one tribe, the Hausa, and had feelings of terrible loss.
“We gave them a marvellous country with a fine economy,” he said. “Despite sanctions we once had a great infrastructure and the finest medical service in the world.”
He also talked about his time in
He also remembered Emperor Bokasa of the
“It used to amuse me to see him coming in with his fly whisk,” he said. “He liked us very much, was always very friendly to me, but perhaps he did lack judgement.”
Diplomatic speak for the man was a homicidal maniac and possibly a cannibal.
Finally got to go to my boarding gate feeling exhausted as if I’d read a whole Graham Green novel in one go.
On board it felt suddenly safe, like being in
They were of course terribly charming and polite. They chatted about where they’d been but didn’t ask me where I’d come from. As I left the plane and headed for the customs gate I was ahead of the rest with one of the boys aged about fifteen beside me. We chatted as we slowly filed along. He said he was very tired after the trip from
I expect he’d sampled the famous night life. As we parted at the baggage carousel he insisted on shaking my hand.
“Well, it has been really lovely to meet you,” he said. “Good luck getting home!” I won’t see manners as polished as that again in awhile.
When I got home I noticed a walking stick in my hallway that I’d been given when I walked the Inka trail ten years ago.
I’d set off well across the thousands of miles of granite pavements, but then one of my knees had “gone,” and I’d had to stagger along with a knee brace, pain-killers and that stick.
It’s very stout, topped with a grotesquely carved Indian face, with a gaping mouth full of large, horrible looking donkey’s teeth. It’s topped by a sharp pointed animal horn.
I remember bringing it back with me on the aeroplane. What would be the chance of that now?
Just before we got to the Sun Gate, the triumphant end of the trail, we stopped for a drink at a hostel, the last one on the trail. Our leader had gone ahead and must have been chatting to people, because when I arrived, lagging behind, I was suddenly pushed violently and jostled as I tried to get to the bar.
I went outside and sat by myself in the sun but a daft looking young man with a new age hair cut came towards me and said, “You are from the Daily Mail. The people in there hate you and they are going to come out here and beat you up.”
I stood up, feeling very still and calm, stick in my hands, pointed horn at the ready and said, “Ok, come on then.” I was going to use the horn to crack his head open like an egg, I really was.
“I think you are a nincompoop,” I said, and he backed off grinning rather sheepishly.
I am still surprised at what altitude can do to you, in my case bring on a bout of psychosis, and just how much the Daily Mail is hated, even in the remotest corners of the globe.